Concern that the mainstream media were ignoring them has helped nationalists reach out to young people on social media.
Concern that the mainstream media were ignoring them has helped nationalists reach out to young people on social media
Whether it is a sign of things to come, or simply a clever move to up its circulation during the most important period in Scottish history for 300 years, the move seemed a significant one.
If nothing else, it disproves the widely held nationalist belief that the mainstream press are uniformly against them.
From ham-fisted coverage of Mark Carney’s currency speech to Andrew Marr pompously informing the first minister of Scotland that the country would struggle to join the EU, even outlets normally trusted by the Scottish left have become viewed as a weapon in the unionist camp’s war against independence.
But despite these concerns over media bias, support for independence has grown remarkably over the past few months, with a recent poll showing that a swing of just two per cent would be enough for a Yes Vote.
During the recent SNP conference in Aberdeen, Alex Salmond highlighted one of the differences between the two campaigns:
“The people are coming towards us. Political public meetings are being revived. Halls have been crowded… Last month the BBC finally discovered this grassroots campaign and tried to cover both sides of the debate. Their problem was that the No campaign struggled to find them any grassroots group to film – or even a single grassroot.”
The jibe hurts Better Together because it is true. No one has taken a lawnmower to the Unionist grassroots campaign; there was none growing to begin with.
And while the No campaign has wheeled out figures like Lord Robertson to make threats of cataclysm, Yes has side-stepped what it sees as the media’s deafness and attempted to meet the people of Scotland directly.
These town hall meetings – springing up across Scotland – are combined with a constant nationalist presence across social media.
Online platforms like Wings Over Scotland and Bella Caledonia are churning out well-written, heavily biased content to big audiences. Between them, these two have a bigger Twitter presence than Better Together. Yes has double that again.
These places provide a stage for Yes to refute unionist claims, and amplify their mistakes. Going on Twitter can feel like being back in the SNP conference.
When pro-union groups make a similar move it does not gather the same traction. Within hours of its launch, No Borders – a kind of unionist rival to the National Collective pro-Yes cultural group – was mired in controversy.
In fact critics questioned whether a group funded by a London-based, Conservative-donating millionaire (and coordinated by a London-based PR firm) could be considered either grassroots or Scottish at all.
Part of Better Together’s problem lies in its nature – it is much harder for a three-party coalition to offer a clear alternative to independence.
They may now have come together to form the Axis of Devo – but theirs is not a clear message that can be translated into 140 characters and spread across the internet.
Yes are particularly popular among young people and with 16 and 17 year olds awarded the vote for the first time in British history (around 100,000 have already registered), the internet is key to reaching them.
This is a problem for Better Together because it looks like the debate is becoming a battle between Yes – using modern communications to promise the future – and Better Together, promising more of the same, using the media of old.
Now none of this means Yes will or should win.
Better Together is still ahead in the polls and there are no guarantees the youth vote will swing it. Anyone who has ever seen a teenager on ketamine will know better than to conflate youth with energy.
But staying ahead in the polls should not be the only reason for Better Together to engage with the grassroots more – a vote for the union will mean very little if the public are voting because of the clear holes in the Yes camp’s message. A win driven by negatives will be no win at all.
So the nationalists may have been slightly paranoid in thinking the media was against them – and it may be too soon to start thinking of the online campaign as some sort of electronic indyfada.
But paranoid or not, it was this concern that drove energy into social media and helped them reach out to young people – something political parties across the spectrum have struggled with for years.
This rising support now seems to have brought the Herald on board, and there are claims that the Scottish Sun may have plans to follow suit.
In this sense the nationalists should not be angry with the media for ignoring them, but thankful. It was the press that set the cybernats free.Like this article? Sign up to Left Foot Forward's weekday email for the latest progressive news and comment - and support campaigning journalism by making a donation today.